The Florida Gators basketball team is leading the nation in scoring with an average of 99.5 points per game. That’s great and all, but Mike White will not rest until his team takes a step defensively.
Huge offense is going to be the name of Florida’s game this season. There is no doubt about it. The problem is, what happens when it’s late in the game and the shots stop falling?
The Gators learned the answer to that the hard way in Sunday’s 87-84 loss to Duke in the PK80 finals.
Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov were Florida’s only players to score more than two points in the second half. It was still nearly enough to get the job done, but unclean defense to go with Marvin Bagley III killing the Gators inside all night put hopes for a huge win out of reach.
“The biggest takeaway is probably what we can learn about ourselves defensively,” White said. “And how those shortcomings can cost you, despite playing really well offensively.”
White can accept some misses on open looks. That’s a part of the game, even for one of the best offensive teams in the country.
The one thing he won’t accept is a lack of effort defensively, because that can always be controlled.
That effort hasn’t always been there on the inside for Florida this season. The players who have the biggest defensive advantage just haven’t gotten it done, leading to the Gators often opting to go with smaller lineups recently.
Until Florida gets stronger on the interior, the risk is worth the reward to have as many offensive weapons on the court as possible.
“Our guards are all defending at a pretty high level,” White said. “Some more so than others. But we’re struggling with our interior defense from our interior guys as much as anything else, and they’re more capable than that. They’ve shown that in the past.”
The one guy the Gators need to step up the most right now is junior center Kevarrius Hayes. He’s had some off-the-court issues lately as he did not start in the New Hampshire game for academic reasons, and then sat out the following game against Stanford for a violation of team rules.
His struggles off the court have translated into his play on the court, and Florida needs him to get back to being the leader he typically is.
“Kevarrius is a great kid,” White said. “He made a little minor mistake. I’m not so much worried about him off of the floor as I am with him getting back the mentality he had last February and March when we needed him the most to really step up as a high-level defender and rebounder.”
White said he’s seen a little more of that back in him in practices since the tournament. It just has to show back up when it really matters.
Once John Egbunu returns from his ACL injury in January, the Gators will be in a much better situation defensively, and that’s when this team could start being really scary.
Until then, all hands are on deck to get defense up to speed moving forward.